Posts tagged payroll

The Root of Edwin Encarnacion’s Improvement in 2012 and its Effect Going Forward

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Courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr

Courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr

2012 marked a magical year for Edwin Encarnacion. In a season that saw a majority of the Blue Jays starting lineup and starting rotation go on the disabled list, EE was a lone bright spot. In fact Edwin was the only Blue Jays position player to substantially outperform preseason expectations, even among such high-potential players as Brett Lawrie and Jose Bautista. At the end of the year he finished with the 7th best offensive season in the MLB by both wOBA and the park adjusted wRC+. In the history of the Blue Jays only a handful of players have finished that high, names like Bautista, Barfield, Delgado, McGriff, and Olerud grace that coveted list.

In total, Edwin Encarnacion hit 16 more home runs than he had in any other season, he had a walk rate almost 3% higher than his previous high and that culminated into a season with more than twice the value that he had produced in any season prior per fWAR.

Despite the massive uptick in performance there seemed to be a slight lack of recognition. Perhaps this was a result of the chaos that was occurring around him? Or perhaps it was a sense of expectation? To some extent the Toronto fan base expected a surge from Edwin Encarnacion. We had always been told he had potential, particularly in the power department.

In 2012 that potential came to fruition, but through what means exactly? On the outside Edwin didn’t seem like a particularly different player, he wasn’t ‘jacked up’ and his play on the field was as clumsy as ever. The main difference we saw was this presumed power that had finally been unlocked. Edwin always had raw power, but changes in 2012 allowed him to utilize it and turn it into game power.

If you were a listener of the now defunct Up and In podcast, Jason Parks and Kevin Goldstein often talked about the concept of raw power versus game power in terms of prospects, but a similar concept applies to major league hitters. The theory states that there is players that have great raw power, but in order for that to translate to ‘in game home runs’ there needs to be an accompanying hit tool of a certain level. In 2011, Edwin’s hit tool was not at that level.

To attempt to fix that, as John Lott wrote late last April, Edwin Encarnacion made a couple changes to his swing prior to the 2012 season. These changes being a subtler leg kick as well as a two handed followthrough. Both of which can be seen in the following two GIFs.

EESwing2011Slowed

2011 (Click to Enlarge)

EESwing2012Slowed

2012 (Click to Enlarge)

The first GIF is of Edwin Encarnacion’s swing on a HR hit off Jered Weaver in 2011, the second GIF is of Edwin’s swing on a HR hit off Wei-Yin Chen in 2012.

In 2011 Edwin had a fairly large leg kick that started as soon as the pitcher begun his windup, but in 2012 he shortened the leg kick motion, started it later. As for the two handed followthrough, which can be seen in the second GIF, the result was a shorter, more controlled swing. Often the result of shortening one’s swing is an additional amount of time that the hitter can use to see and assess the pitch that’s coming out of the pitcher’s hand. In turn this can be seen in a hitter’s plate discipline statistics.

In 2012, Edwin Encarnacion posted the lowest overall swing rate of his career (41.6%), while still maintaining his career average contact rate (82.1%). He raised his pitches per plate appearance rate from 3.74 in 2011 to 4.19 in 2012. Of course P/PA isn’t the be all end all of plate disciplinary statistics, notably bad hitters like Jemile Weeks and Jamey Carroll also appeared in the top 20 in P/PA in 2012. However if we take a closer look at Edwin’s Pitch F/X Hitter Profile we find that quite a few of the pitches that EE was laying off of in 2012 were breaking balls low and outside.

2011-EE-Slider-Curve

2011 per Baseball Prospectus’ Pitch F/X Hitter Profiles (Click to Enlarge)

2012 (Click to Enlarge)

2012 per Baseball Prospectus’ Pitch F/X Hitter Profiles (Click to Enlarge)

Each of the above graphics includes Encarnacion’s swing rate against the slider (left) and curveball (right) in 2011 and 2012. As you can probably tell, there is quite a bit less red at the bottom of the 2012 graphic indicating that Edwin swung at a substantially lower number of breaking balls low and outside in 2012 as opposed to 2011. Thereby leading to more balls, more walks, and better overall contact…three things that were supposedly the objective in changing Edwin’s swing.

As well, as was previously mentioned, Edwin hit 16 more home runs than his previous career high, while maintaing the lowest PA/HR rate of his career. This runs somewhat contrary to the theoretical results of the changes that he made. Most often the compacting of one’s swing will lead to less power, not more. Instead Edwin Encarnacion’s HRs were on average 15.8ft further (413.2 ft in 2012, 397.4 ft in all years prior) than his career Average True Distance per Hit Tracker, lending itself to the theory of game power versus raw power.

With both of those points in mind there’s a case to be made that Edwin’s career highs in BB% and HR/FB% aren’t subject to as much regression as one might expect. ZiPS for example projects a 10.6 BB% (down 2.4%) and a 15.1% HR/FB (down 3.6%) assuming the same fly ball rate as 2012, resulting in a .369 wOBA (down 27 points).  Pitchers are bound to pitch to Edwin differently, but if he can make adjustments as he did in 2012 there’s reason to believe that he should be able to combat those changes and produce similar overall offensive numbers save for slight regression as the result of age.

Alex Anthopoulos often talks about investing in in the player, the player that puts in the work and makes the needed adjustments. Edwin showed that he could accomplish that last season. Alex Anthopoulos likely saw that when he signed Edwin Encarnacion to a 3-year $27 million dollar contract extension.

He’ll never be an elite (or even above average) fielder, but he has an elite, cost-controlled bat at a position that, league wide, is beginning to lose depth. There’s no reason to believe that his premier performance won’t continue going forward.

Special Thanks to Chris Sherwin and Steve McEwen for their input on this post

The Night that Anthopoulos Acquired the Marlins

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The collective sigh that Blue Jays fans began the 2012/2013 offseason with has assuredly subsided as the Jays completed what may be the biggest trade in their history. In the transaction, the Blue Jays got Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, John Buck, and $4 million (maybe more?) from the Marlins in return for Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Henderson Alvarez, Justin Nicolino, Jake Marisnick, Jeff Mathis, and Anthony DeSclafani. Jon Morosi first reported the rumblings of the deal and summed it up pretty nicely too.

Despite the intended sarcasm, Jon Morosi was right, the Blue Jays acquired $163.75 million of total salary from the Marlins and before arbitration the Marlins are left with $32 million committed to their 2013 payroll. That figure comes just one year after their $101 million payroll and the opening of their new publicly funded ballpark. The trade resulted in reactions ranging from “HAHAHA F U Loria” to “OMG OMG OMG”, but on the whole it produced a state of excitement in Blue Jays fans unparalleled by anything in quite a long while.

Simply on a player for player basis, the Blue Jays gained roughly 10-12 wins in their acquisitions, but nothing comes without a catch. In the process of the deal the Blue Jays increased their 2012 payroll by roughly $30 million to a total of $108 million for 2013. That $108 million figure is by no means exact, it is a prediction, but it does include all payroll obligations plus MLBTR’s projected arbitration numbers. Nonetheless that projected figure would mark the highest Blue Jays payroll in…well…ever. The previous high came in 2008 when the Blue Jays ran on a payroll of $97 million dollars.

Furthermore, while it is amazing that the Jays managed to keep Travis d’Arnaud in the deal, they still traded away their No. 3 and No. 5 prospects in Jake Marisnick and Justin Nicolino. Since the trade has happened there have been quotes from scouts who’ve shown hesitancy towards predicting Marisnick with as bright a future as Marlins fans might hope, but nonetheless both he and Nicolino are Top 100 prospects.

In return for their prospects, their players, and their money the Blue Jays got an improved starting SS in Reyes as well as two pitchers to plug into the top half of their starting rotation in Johnson and Buhrle. In Reyes the Jays are getting an additional 3 or 4 wins over what Yunel Escobar provided for them in 2012. In Buehrle the Blue Jays are getting a consistent pitcher who can and should give them 200 innings in 2013, a change of pace from what we saw with the rotation in 2012. Lastly in Johnson the Jays are getting a guy who has been among the Top 15 pitchers in baseball over the past four years, in terms of WAR, which if he’s healthy should mean a 3-5 win upgrade on whatever back end of the rotation starter the Jays would have otherwise used.

Then along with the big three, the Jays acquired 32 year old J.P. Arencibia (aka John Buck) and a better Mike McCoy (aka Emilio Bonifacio), two players who are likely to be used in backup and utility roles. Bonifacio missed significant time last year due to injury, but he can and has played 2B, 3B, SS, LF, CF, RF while also being one of the best base runners in baseball.

The only curiosity I had with the trade was the fact that the Blue Jays acquired two players who were free agents during the previous offseason, Reyes and Buehrle. Whether this means that the Blue Jays didn’t have enough funds until attendance increased, that they’re more hard set on their “No Contracts Longer than 5 Years” rule than we thought, that they simply couldn’t convince either of Reyes or Buehrle to come to Toronto, or for some other unknown reason it is speculation that peaks curiosity, but speculation nonetheless. Of course all of this is easy to say in hindsight, but it would still be interesting to see how things would have played out both this season and this offseason had the Jays signed the two players they traded for.

With that said, in the Land of Blue Jays fans, where apparently anything is possible (yes Kevin Garnett you were right) this megadeal has amounted to proclamations of the Jays being the best team in the AL East, in the American League, and from the mouths of a few Twitterers, the best team in baseball. While the trade represents a significant upgrade, the injury ridden Blue Jays acquired two more injury ridden players. While that isn’t the end of the world, creating a team with plenty of injury prone players could very easily hamper the 2013 record.

Even then, whether or not this team is even a playoff contender is still a legitimate question, but one that can be answered another day. For today we can revel in the benefits of an increased payroll, hopes for contention, and the excitement of seemingly limitless possibilities as we await both the rest of the offseason and the beginning of Spring Training.

PHOTO CREDIT: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Transactions, We Have Transactions!

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Photo Courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr

So…for once all the noise about the Blue Jays making a move was true. Jon Heyman first reported the signing and a Blue Jays press release later confirmed that the Blue Jays had signed Maicer Izturis to a 3 year contract worth $9 million dollars with a option for a fourth year at $3 million. As was pointed out by the masses, that contract marks the largest free agent contract that has been handed out since Alex Anthopoulos took over the general manager job in 2009. It’s also two times as big as the contract that was previously the largest, which was a 1 year $4.5 million contract handed out to Francisco Cordero last offseason.

Perhaps more surprisingly the Maicer Izturis contract marks just the second guaranteed multiyear free agent contract handed out by Anthopoulos. The only other one? A 2 year $3 million contract that the Blue Jays gave to the John Macdonald in 2009.

A lot has been made of these various milestones and perhaps for good reason, as Shi Davidi speculated in his article on the Izturis signing, this signing may be a prelude of things to come. As we heard earlier this offseason, the Blue Jays reportedly have money to spend as they plan on increasing the payroll for 2013 and perhaps this is an indication of just that. As I stated in the free agency preview, the difference between this year and last, other than this preliminary signing, is that AA has been much more forthright in his statements regarding the payroll and now in his actions as well.

With that said, the specifics of the Izturis deal itself are fairly intriguing. The deal pays Maicer Izturis $3 million a year in each of the three guaranteed seasons as well as in the option year. For a player whom is often labelled as a utility player that may seem like a fair amount of money to guarantee, but for what he provides it looks to be a fair and justified contract.

Maicer Izturis is coming off a 3 year $10 million contract with the Angels and if you look at Maicer Izturis’ WAR over the last three years of his previous contract you will see that he has produced a total of 4.1 WAR. Using the rough $5 million per win above replacement value calculation, the Angels got approximately $10.5 million of value over the course of Maicer Izturis’ contract. While both Izturis’ previous contract as well this current one did not and do not provide a base for a clear abundance of potential value they pay him for what he is, which is a great utility infielder…or perhaps even a starting second baseman?

As Anthopoulos noted in the conversation he had with reporters after the Izturis signing, Izturis as the starting second baseman would be a fine solution to the hole that is currently at the position. Solely on a fWAR level in 2012, Maicer Izturis was worth as much as former second baseman Kelly Johnson while being paid $1.2 million less. Furthermore this came in part as a result of Izturis’ 391 plate appearances as opposed to Johnson’s 581. As well, Izturis’ 2012 season isn’t necessarily the best measure of his true talent level being that it was his worst season since 2005 despite no major change in approach or sabrmetric results besides a few odd batted ball stats as a result of an absurdly high infield fly ball rate, which doesn’t necessarily hold predictive value.

Another point that Anthopoulos noted was the idea that he would keep his options open, as he often does, and if the Blue Jays do in fact find another second baseman worthy of a starting job then pencilling in Izturis as utility player extraordinaire at the price they’re paying for him isn’t half bad either.

In the grand scheme of things the Izturis contract is a deal that is buying out the ages 32, 33, and 34 seasons of a player who is a career utility player, but a good one at that. Maicer Izturis is 1-2 WAR player, with the potential for a bit more; he can play multiple positions and he appears to be flexible in doing so. The fact that the Jays went to 3 years with Izturis could be a criticism, but it really isn’t a hinderance in the overall picture. For once, the Blue Jays seemed to have gotten exactly who they wanted, which hasn’t exactly been a frequent occurrence for the Jays on the free agent market in recent years.

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